Despite relatively low unemployment figures, concerns have been raised that those who suffer from ill health struggle to enter and remain in work. According to Government figures, it is suspected that although around 8 in 10 non-disabled people are employed, only 5 in 10 disabled people are in work. Furthermore, disabled people are 10 times more likely to leave work following long-term sickness absence than non-disabled people.
Against this background, on Monday 15 July the government launched a consultation called Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss. The proposals aim to support and encourage early action by employers for their employees with long-term health conditions, and improve access to quality, cost-effective Occupational Health (‘OH’). It is hoped that by creating a structure where workplaces can proactively support the health and well-being of staff, wider society will benefit from retaining talent in work.
The headline proposals are:
- A right will be introduced for employees to request modifications to the workplace and their working pattern on health grounds. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are currently under a duty to consider reasonable adjustments where an employee with a disability and is placed at a substantial disadvantage as a result. The proposed change would allow employees to request that modifications are made even where the employee doesn’t meet the definition of disabled under the 2010 Act. The employer would however be able to refuse a request for workplace modifications on legitimate business grounds.
- Changes to the provision of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The proposed changes would enable an employee returning from a period of sickness absence to have a flexible, phased return to work while still receiving some SSP. It is likely that this would be pro-rated depending on how many days the employee had returned for. Additionally, there are proposals to increase the fines for failure to pay SSP as well as bringing the enforcement of these fines within the remit of a proposed new, single labour market enforcement body (as proposed by the Taylor review in 2017.)
- Finally, there would be a more inclusive approach taken to the effective use of OH services by employers. The government is seeking views on ways to reduce the costs, increase market capacity and improve the value and quality of OH services. This includes looking at offering small and medium enterprises targeted subsidies or vouchers to access OH services. This could potentially lead to more access to OH assessments and advice; training; or recommended treatments.
The consultation on these proposals ends on 7 October and more detail is available in the consultation paper.
If you would like more information on the proposals and how this might impact your working practises then please get in touch with your dedicated Employment Solicitor.